14 April 2000

Right to roam may lead to clashes

By Isabel Davies

FARMERS and walkers are in danger of clashing over access to farmland because many people believe the government has already implemented its right to roam across open land, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors has warned.

A new report by the institution on the implications of open access has urged the government to ensure that the public understands the nature and timing of right to roam provisions. The report, in response to the governments draft Countryside Bill, says: "The debate on access has being going on for some time; the announcement of the government bill was heralded as a victory. The public are not aware that this right of access could be two or more years away and that it will only be to defined open country."

RICS spokesman William Tew said problems could occur if walkers ventured out thinking access had already been agreed and farmers turned them away. He added: "This summer there could be ill-feeling, especially if people have travelled considerable distances to go walking."

The comments come days after the NFU Mutual insurance company called for dog owners to keep their pets under control after it emerged that sheep worrying cost farmers an estimated £2m a year. The company estimates that 24,000 sheep were killed or injured by dogs last year – an 8.5% increase on 1998.

Many ramblers go walking during the Easter Bank Holiday weekend. Last Sunday, a mass rally by 1500 people protested against illegally blocked footpaths on farmland and in open countryside. The rally, at Lightwater Valley park, near Ripon, North Yorkshire was organised by the Ramblers Association, which claims that 32,500 miles of the 130,000 mile network in England and Wales is either deliberately blocked or obstructed.

A survey undertaken for the association claims there is a problem every two-and-a-half miles of public footpaths in England and Wales. Two of the worst offenders were found to be Powys and Shropshire, each with a problem every mile, said Ramblers Association president Andrew Bennett, MP.

"These new survey figures show once again the shocking state of this nations public footpaths. This is simply not acceptable," he added. "Local authorities have a legal duty to see that paths are kept open and properly maintained, and its about time they took this obligation seriously."

The Ramblers Association claims one-quarter of the 130,000-mile rights of way network in England and Wales is either deliberately blocked or obstructed. &#42